17 Art Exhibitions Worth Traveling for in Europe This Year, From a Blowout Survey of Yayoi Kusama’s Inflatables to the Largest Showcase of Vermeer’s Work Yet
Our European team handpicked the must-see exhibitions for the first half of this year.
This year may lack big headliners like Documenta and the Venice Biennale, but there is certainly no shortage of showstoppers. We scoured institutional programs across the continent and selected 17 shows set to open between January and June that we think will be the talks of the town.
LuYang Vibratory Field
Kunsthalle Basel, Basel
January 20—May 21, 2023
Set to be the visionary Shanghai-born artist’s first show in Switzerland, “Vibratory Field,” will feature a range of LuYang’s signature body of work, which ranges from video animation, avatars, and video games. The show, according to organizers, is “a spectacular computer-generated cosmos”—given it much more deserved space than the artist’s work received at the Venice Biennale this year, where it was tucked away in a corner.
“Topics such as our lives, desires, and the limitations and functions of our bodies are relevant to every living person. This allows me to go beyond the limits of my identity to think freely on a higher level, in a larger universe. Any human being can understand my works,” the artist told Artnet News.
Rudolf Levy: “Work in Exile”
Palazzo Pitti, Florence
January 24—April 30, 2023
I came across the tragic story of Rudolf Levy when I visited a paradigm-shifting exhibition that explored the history of Documenta (the world-famous German exhibition). Part of that show focused on the German-Jewish painter, who died in Auschwitz; this exhibition revealed that before Levy was deported from Florence, where he had been in exile, he would likely have come into contact with Documenta co-founder Werner Haftmann, who was a Nazi and temporarily stationed there. Levy, like many Jewish artists who were murdered in the Holocaust, were later pushed out of postwar German history by people like Haftmann, who did not want to draw more attention to Germany’s war crimes, especially if they were also complicit in them. Levy was excluded from the first Documenta, though he had been on preliminary lists.
It is especially poignant that the Uffizi’s Palazzo Pitti is not far from where Levy spent his last months. The institution will present the first monographic exhibition dedicated to the artist; it will also include Flame, an acquisition the museum made in January, which was created while he lived in hiding in Florence in 1942.
Mohammed Sami: “The Point 0”
Camden Art Center, London
January 27–May 28, 2023
I discovered Sami’s work when it was included in 2021 in the Hayward Gallery’s excellent survey of painting today, “Mixing It Up,” and it stood out among 31 of today’s painting stars. The Iraqi-born artist is now getting his first institutional solo in the U.K., which will showcase his unsettling large-scale paintings that draw from his own memories living under Saddam Hussein’s regime in Baghdad and subsequent refugee experience in Sweden. The troubling works, devoid of people, present eerie and uncanny visions of neglected interiors, overwhelming cityscapes, and everyday objects whose heft lies in what isn’t rather than what is depicted.
“Klimt. Inspired by Van Gogh, Rodin, Matisse…”
February 3—May 29, 2023
In 2015, the Belvedere in Vienna and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam embarked on a collaborative journey with an aim to find out which works might have influenced the Viennese modern artist Gustav Klimt, in order to trace exactly how modern art arrived in Vienna at the turn of the century. From major exhibitions to smaller private collections, researchers have been digging deep into history and references to retrace the footsteps of Klimt. This 2023 exhibition should be a fascinating result of this joint research project; it is set to include about 90 paintings, drawings, and sculptures from Klimt alongside works by artists such as Monet, Rodin, van Gogh, and Matisse, who all inspired him. The exhibition marks the 300th anniversary of the Belvedere.
Action, Gesture, Paint: Women Artists and Global Abstraction 1940-70
Whitechapel Gallery, London
February 9–May 7, 2023
Even as artists like Joan Mitchell, Lee Krasner, Helen Frankenthaler and Elaine de Kooning have become major household names, the idea of an “action” painter making bold gestures on canvas still carries frustratingly white, male connotations. This major survey of 150 works by 80 artists will not only place under-recognized women at the center of the Abstract Expressionist movement, but it is set to push far beyond the confines of the New York scene, to bring to light the practices of women working globally, including Wook-kyung Choi in South Korea, Mozambican-born Italian artist Bertina Lopes, Ukrainian-born American painter Janet Sobel, Argentinian artist Marta Minujín, and Iranian painter Behjat Sadr. The exhibition’s scope proves that, from the 1940s onwards, radical notions of free expression and materiality inspired artists worldwide.
The Morgan Stanley Exhibition: Peter Doig
The Courtauld Gallery, London
February 10—May 29
This major exhibition, set to feature a range of new and recent works by the acclaimed painter Peter Doig, is the Courtauld’s first solo show of a contemporary artist since the London institution reopened in November 2021 following a major refurbishment. But it also marks a new chapter of the 1959-born artist’s creative journey: artworks on show will include paintings and works on paper that Doig created since he moved back from his longtime home of Trinidad to London in 2021. The exhibition will also highlight the artist’s work as a draughtsman and printmaker by showcasing a series of new drawings and prints.
February 10—June 4
Arguably one of the most exciting exhibitions in 2023 for not just art lovers but also the general public, this rare exhibition has been billed as the largest showcase of Johannes Vermeer. It is set to bring together at least 28 iconic paintings by the Dutch master from all over the world under one roof; Girl Interrupted at Her Music, Officer and Laughing Girl, and Mistress and Maid are on loan from the Frick Collection, New York, will be shown for the first time together outside of New York in a century. They join The Girl with a Pearl Earring, on loan from Mauritshuis, The Hague, and four masterpieces from the collection of Rijksmuseum. Fingers crossed that climate activists can leave such important cultural treasure alone.
Alice Neel: Hot Off The Griddle
February 16—May 21, 2023
One of the greats of American art is getting due recognition across the pond with her largest U.K. exhibition yet. Though both Alice Neel’s expressionistic figurative style and her interest in too often overlooked subjects – including activists, queer performers and pregnant women – may be fashionable today, when Neel was working in New York during the early to mid 20th century her practice was easily overshadowed by prevailing interests in modernist movements. Her dignified portrayals of people she encountered in everyday life offer a unique record of people that were otherwise pushed to the fringes of mainstream society and history. Neel’s life in Greenwich Village and later Spanish Harlem, as well as her staunchly communist politics, are also brought to life through letters and photographs.
Martin Wong: “Malicious Mischief”
KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin
February 25—May 14, 2023
The brilliance of the work of American-Chinese artist Martin Wong, who died in 1999, is hard to overstate—and he is, not unlike Michel Majerus, deeply beloved by many artists I know. Yet it seems that art history is still beginning to come to know the vast breadth of Wong’s relevance and his densely packed paintings, which plot queerness, marginal communities, and social realities against landscapes of gentrification.
That Wong is under-discovered is especially true in Europe, where the artist is only now getting a comprehensive, touring retrospective. “Malicious Mischief” spans his beginnings in late 1960s California, his most famous period of painting (and living in) New York in 1980s, and culminates with his last works made before his death from an AIDS. It will head to the Camden Arts Center (July 7—September 17, 2023) and then to the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, (November 4, 2023—April 1, 2024).
The Stedelijk, Amsterdam
I’ve always been a fan of gallows humor. The surprisingly tight gap between levity and hopelessness can be an effective space in which to broach difficult subjects, and to express unwieldy emotions. So, following its opening at the National Gallery of Canada, I’m excited that this retrospective of General Idea is coming to Europe.
The Stedelijk will lend its spotlight to the collective, made up of Canadian artists Felix Partz, Jorge Xontal, and AA Bronson, who were active under the moniker between 1969 and 1994. The exhibition is the most comprehensive retrospective on the trio to date, and charts the group’s witty and eccentric output through more than 200 works. From major installations such as the 1987 AIDS sculpture, which riffs on Robert Indiana’s “LOVE” motif—both Xontal and Partz contracted HIV in the 1980s—to archival materials, publications, painting, and sculpture, the exhibition showcases the group’s playful commentary and critique on mass media, consumer culture, social inequality, queerness, and the art economy, tracing its impact on both their own moment and milieu.
‘Reaching for the Stars. From Maurizio Cattelan to Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’
Palazzo Strozzi, Florence
March 4–June 18, 2023
Since opening her non-profit foundation in 1995 in the northern Italian city of Turin, the mega-collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo has overseen and continued to grow one of the country’s most prestigious public collections, expanding to Madrid in 2017. Now, the historic Palazzo Strozzi in Florence will be the stage for a selection of highlights from her collection—a first show of its kind. It will include some of the biggest names in contemporary art, including Maurizio Cattelan—the boundary-pushing artist known internationally for Comedian, a banana taped to a wall at 2019’s Art Basel Miami Beach, South African artist William Kentridge, and painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, as well as major YBA art stars like Damien Hirst and Sarah Lucas.
Souls Grown Deep like the Rivers: Black Artists from the American South
Royal Academy of Arts, London
March 17–June 18, 2023
Taking its name from a Langston Hughes poem, this show tells the stories of Black artists working in the American South, including names that have received major acclaim in recent years like Thornton Dial, Lonnie Holley, Nellie Mae Rowe, and Purvis Young. Many of these artists were self-taught, and their experimental practices frequently combined craft traditions, passed down through generations, with found materials to address pressing subjects, such as the relentless persecution and systemic racism faced by Black communities in the South. Interwoven with these are works that record the joys and hardships of everyday life. The show has been organized by the Atlanta-based Souls Grown Deep Foundation, which promotes Black artists from the South and seeks to support their local communities.
Michel Majerus: “Sinnmachine”
Mudam Luxembourg, Luxembourg
March 31—October 1, 2023
Last year was, officially, the year of Michel Majerus. It marked the 20th anniversary of the artist’s untimely death with shows all over Germany and at the ICA Miami, timed to Art Basel Miami Beach. Interest in the artist, whose estate and archive has been carefully preserved since his death, is booming. Despite the flurry of shows, one essential exhibition is still to come, at at the MUDAM in Luxembourg, which is Majerus’s home country. “Sinnmachine,” which means sense machine in German, will feature early paintings by Majerus and rarely seen archival material, including notebooks, his collection of books and magazines, and recorded VHS tapes—the aim is to build a full picture of how Majerus viewed (and sensed) the world around him.
Pinault Collection, Punta della Dogana, Venice
April 2—November 26, 2023
Look, it’s always fun to see what’s in a billionaire’s private collection. This exhibition of works from François Pinault’s treasure trove will explore the theme of “icons,” both in the sense of the word’s Greek etymology, which defines an icon as an “image” or “likeness” and a term to designate religious paintings. Works by artists from Maurizio Cattelan to Arthur Jafa and Agnes Martin will be on view in the thematically grouped exhibition, which aims to consider both the fragility and the power of these kinds of images. The Venetian setting is apt for iconoclasm, and I’ll call that as good an excuse as any to make a trip to La Serenissima.
Petit Palais, Paris
April 14–August 27, 2023
One of the original celebrities whose talent, glamor and intrigue inspired a cult following and enthralled an entire generation, Sarah Bernhardt was a symbol of her era in Paris. A new show celebrates the centenary of her death, bringing together almost 400 items that retell her exciting life story, both as a stage persona – through costumes, posters and paintings – and as a woman at the center of a wide network of prominent artists and intellectuals – through photographs, personal belongings and even her own artworks. Among the highlights is a resplendent portrait of the actress aged 32 by her friend Georges Clairin.
Liverpool Biennial, uMoya: “The Sacred Return of Lost Things”
Various locations, Liverpool
June 10–September 17, 2023
The 12th edition of the Liverpool Biennial, which has been named after an isiZulu-language word meaning spirit, breath, air, climate and wind, will be centered around ancestral and Indigenous forms of knowledge, wisdom and healing. Curated by Khanyisile Mbongwa, more than 30 artists and collectives, from Brook Andrew (who directed the 2020 Sydney Biennial) to Julien Creuzet (who will represent France in the 2024 Venice Biennale) will respond to the theme.
Yayoi Kusama: You, Me and the Balloons
Factory International, Manchester
June 29—August 28, 2023
“You, Me and the Balloons,” the first major immersive exhibition dedicated to the celebrated Japanese artist’s inflatable works, will be a major curtain raiser for Factory International, the highly anticipated new cultural landmark to open in Manchester in the U.K. in June.
Spanning 143,698 square feet, the new space, designed by the award-winning architecture firm OMA, is the largest publicly funded national cultural project to open in the U.K. since the Tate Modern in 2000. The new Kusama show is set to feature works more than 33 feet tall that trace the artist’s practice in inflatable art —this promises to be a major attraction for art lovers and general public alike.
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